Tow Vehicle Q&A

Posted In: Blog, Towing

From time to time, I will attempt to answer email queries in this space. Today I received a nice email from a couple of prospective Airstream owners. After asking a little about Airstreams (they are considering 28-foot Safari and International models), they really focused on the truck end of things.

That’s one aspect of buying a towable RV; for many of us, we need to go shopping TWICE. Personally, I never owned a pickup truck before becoming an RV owner.

This photo was taken on our way to Key West, early in The Long Long Honeymoon.

This photo was taken on our way to Key West, early in The Long Long Honeymoon.

In the future I’m planning to do a video about tow vehicle options (starring our faithful truck SEEMORE). But for now, I’ll let this visitor to The Long Long Honeymoon take the floor:

My husband and I have decided to begin our “second long, long honeymoon” — it’s our 37th year together! We are planning to buy an Airstream and truck. While doing our research we ran across your website and videos… we’ve spent hours watching and have learned so much from them. Thank you!

Hey, it’s my pleasure. Thanks for watching. Tell your friends. Pass it around!

The truck decision is hard… We have received so much advice from dealerships, websites and friends…even those without any towing experience have weighed-in. The latest advice has us in a 350 diesel, which seems like way more truck than we need. The cost of the two vehicles is also a consideration, my husband is retired and I will be retiring in a few short years. We are hoping that you would share a little advice, based on your experience with pulling an Airstream.

I will offer my advice and opinions. Take them for what they are worth. I’ll never claim to know what’s best for everyone. But I’m happy to relay our experiences and what we’ve learned.

You mentioned that you have a Ford 250 diesel truck —


1. What model/year is this truck?

Our truck is a 2007 Ford F250 Supercab Powerstroke Diesel with a short bed.

Ford changed model designs in 2008, so we bought one in the final year of the “old” design.

Personally, I feel more confident buying a vehicle that’s a few years along in a production run, because the manufacturer has had plenty of time to work out the bugs and perfect the design. Of course, the “all new” 2008 models offered many improvements; but they came along with many teething issues. Also, we got a better deal on the ’07 because the dealer just wanted to move them off the lot. (I don’t have the numbers handy, but it seems like we received over 20% off the MSRP!)

Our truck is a “Supercab” which means it has a half backseat. The rear doors open in “suicide” style, if you know what I mean. The rear seats also fold up for extra storage.

2. What towing package do you have?

We have a limited slip rear differential, which I’m told is good for towing. We also have the “tow / haul” package, which engages the engine as a brake. The tow / haul package is fantastic! It really enhances one’s confidence when towing, especially when traversing steep declines. We towed our Airstream down many tall mountains in Montana, and I never needed to “ride the brakes” because the engine braking system helps to maintain a steady speed. So, yes, I definitely have a tow package and strongly recommend it.

3. Are you still happy with it?

I love it! Really, I love owning a pickup truck. I don’t know how we got along without one before.

As an RV tow vehicle it has done all we’ve asked, and we’ve asked a lot.

I’m a little miffed that the cost of diesel fuel now exceeds the cost of premium gasoline, but that’s not the truck’s fault.

4. Do you feel that it is “enough truck” for your 25 footer?

Plenty. It’s arguably slight overkill, but I recommend that you buy a little more truck than you need. Why? It’s a safety issue. I’m concerned that buying “just enough truck” may cause an accident down the road.

You mentioned buying an F350. In my book, that’s buying a LOT more truck than you need. You should be able to tow the Airstreams you mentioned (Safari and International models) with an F250 just fine. The Safari, especially, is designed to be light weight.

The Classic models are a little heavier, thanks to oak cabinetry and Corian countertops. If you were going for a 34-foot Classic, then I think you should probably step up to an F350 or similar truck.

5. Do you feel it should have been bigger and more powerful?

Personally, no. I’ve been very happy with our truck.

Bigger? It’s already a monstrosity. 😉 Some would say that for ultimate towing stability, we should have opted for a crew cab (full backseat four-door) model with a long bed. Those trucks have a longer wheelbase, and therefore deliver even more stability when towing. But they are the size of a battleship.

More powerful? The beast has enough torque to HAUL said battleship. The diesel engine is fantastic. Yes, it sounds like a school bus, but it generates gobs of power and gets about 12 MPG when towing (about 17 MPG when not towing). I have no complaints about the engine.

6. Is there anything that you feel is missing from your truck options? What are they?

Ahhh, options. Here’s where the price of a vehicle can run amuck.

Ford offers a completely over the top interior option called “King Ranch.” It’s completely absurd in that your truck interior will be nicer than the average Porsche interior (thicker saddle leather & stitching, yadda yadda). But wow, it is nice. I certainly wouldn’t recommend paying full MSRP for this feature, but if I were shopping the pre-owned market and saw a King Ranch truck, I would check it out. Options usually lose quite a bit of value upon resale.

Our interior is called “Lariat” and it’s pretty bare bones. The LED display on the dashboard is pathetic. The stereo is decent but lacks iPod support. But hey, at the end of the day, it’s a pickup truck.

7. What maintenance is needed on this vehicle?

Oil changes are regularly required, as with any other vehicle, but they are on the expensive side (like just over $100). The monster engine needs a LOT of oil.

But now for the good news! Diesels are generally very reliable and durable, moreso than gasoline engines. Some people claim that a diesel truck with 100,000 miles is just getting broken in. They are built to work.

So, if cost is a factor, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a well-maintained, used diesel truck. Let someone else take the hit on depreciation.

Note that although we have a Ford, I’ve also heard good things about the GMC equivalent diesel. The Chevy has an Allison transmission which all of the truck guys seem to hold in high regard.

8. Now that you have logged so many miles, how is the truck holding up?

We’ve logged about 32,000 miles on the truck so far. SEEMORE is holding up like a tank.

We have had one problem, that that was the failure of a small air-conditioning motor that pushed cool air through the main vents into the cabin. The A/C itself did not fail, but the loss of the motor meant that the cool air was restricted to the windshield vents (no small problem in Arizona in July). This problem was fixed under warranty in a couple of hours.

9. Any other thoughts?

I would like to reiterate that the choice of tow vehicle is a SAFETY ISSUE. Towing too much RV with not enough truck is a recipe for disaster. DEFINITELY GET A STOUT TOW VEHICLE. If cost is an issue, look to the used market. They’re all “used” once they’re driven off the lot, anyway. I would much, much rather tow with a 5-year old SAFE tow vehicle than a brand new unsafe one.

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